Best Picture: "Moonlight"
A magnificent film standing alone in a world full of films that are afraid to talk about one of the last taboos in American society: the black penis. Not that this film is about a penis as much as it's about the black male heart—though let's not make the mistake that a black man's penis is his heart—but society has worked really hard to make us believe that the two are detached. This film makes a strong counterpoint. (Nia Hampton)
Best Director: Barry Jenkins, "Moonlight"
In a year where being who you truly are has been treated like an indulgent luxury, "Moonlight" was an intimate portrait of a lifelong struggle to figure out your real identity in the first place. For his sophomore effort, Barry Jenkins fused a cornucopia of global cinematic influences, key among them Wong Kar Wai, into his own unique authorial voice. The result is a film that dares to be emotionally specific but otherwise artfully ambiguous. (Dominic Griffin)
Best Musical: "Lemonade"
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we know—the video format of Beyoncé's "Lemonade" album was entirely in the service of mainstream capital, an hour-long album commercial that you needed a premium cable channel to see initially. But conventional screen musicals could reinvent themselves by taking cues from the way "Lemonade" created unique cinematic worlds by pairing lush visual ideas with the thematic and narrative leitmotifs found in the album's music and lyrics. (Bret McCabe)
Best Tear-Jerker: "Don't Call Me Son"
Naomi Nero delivers a knockout performance as the gender-fluid-exploring teenager Pierre who discovers the woman he's called mom all his life stole him from his biological parents. Brazilian writer/director Anna Muylaert takes what sounds like kindling for a melodramatic bonfire and turns it into a refreshingly complex, unsentimental drama that explores class consciousness and the personal politics born from recognizing what separates one's genetic family from one's ride-or-die fam. (BM)
Best Movie You'll Probably Never See: "Divines"
Director Houda Benyamina's debut about a pair of teenage girls living in a low-income banlieue outside Paris, got earmarked as the female "La Haine," Mathieu Kassovitz's indelible 1995 drama. A better comparison is calling Benyamina a French-Moroccan Cassavetes, finding her own improvisational cinematic language and allowing her actresses, especially her young sister Oulaya Amamra, to create three-dimensional characters that sear themselves into memory. (BM)
Best Movie You Didn't See: "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk"*
Right now offers so many global and domestic crises to fret over that it's easy to forget just how disastrous our 2003 invasion of Iraq continues to be. Ang Lee's surprisingly faithful adaptation of Ben Fountain's 2012 novel isn't asking you to never forget; instead, Lee crafts an affecting, Altmanesque portrait of the moral turpitude that invasion ivied through American culture. Also: Vin Diesel's best performance since "Find Me Guilty." (BM)
Best Lead Actor: Ashton Sanders, "Moonlight"
I haven't stopped thinking about Ashton Sanders' portrayal of Chiron. In part it's because that level of vulnerability in a male character regardless of race on screen is rare, but also because black masculinity is too often simplified as rigid and hard. Ashton Sanders' performance defies expectations—and I keep hearing his breathy voice exclaiming "man fuck ya'll niggas" as he's being bullied after school. (NH)
Best Unplaceable Accent: Forest Whitaker, "Arrival" and "Star Wars: Rogue One"
If Amy Adams could make headway with an alien language in "Arrival," could she do Forest Whitaker's accent for the sequel? Whitaker's Colonel Weber sounds like he arrived at that military camp in Montana by way of some bayou parishes and the fishing boat in "Manchester By the Sea," with dialect lessons along the way from Natalie Portman as Jackie in "Jackie." And Portman must have given him some tips on how to talk a little stilted in a Star Wars movie, because we hear every pound of that bionic suit on him in "Rogue One." (Andrew Holter)
Best 1-2 Punch: Royalty Hightower, "The Fits"
Eleven-year-old Hightower completely powers this oneiric, affecting film as the tomboy who straddles the world of the boxing gym where she works out with her older brother and the girls' dance team that also trains at the same rec center. When members of the dance team start experiencing the titular seizure-like episodes after she joins, Hightower impressively conveys the adolescent's emotional and corporeal athleticism, combing boxing and dance into her own choreography to confront life. (BM)
Best Romantic Comedy Leading Man: Markees Christmas, "Morris from America"
Craig Robinson nabbed an Independent Spirit Award nomination for his portrayal of the widowed single dad trying to raise his son, but Christmas walks away with this movie as the titular Morris, the only 13-year-old black kid in Heidelberg, Germany. He's the kid who's rapping by himself at home, unaware that both his microphone skills and lyrics need work. One glance at 15-year-old Katrin (Lina Keller) and he's done for, and even though he knows she's completely out of his league, that doesn't stop the young guy from giving it a shot, risking the inevitable embarrassment and heartache. Respect. (BM)
A For Effort Supporting Actor: Oscar Isaac, "X-Men: Apocalypse"
Nothing like watching one of the finest, most charismatic performers of his generation caked in Ivan Ooze cosplay trying to imbue stilted, questionable dialogue with believable emotion through sheer force of will. I hope he and Michael Fassbender got real drunk together at the wrap party—and made out. (DG)
Best Australian: Ben Mendelsohn, "Star Wars: Rogue One"
There can only be one, and this year it's Ben Mendelsohn. City Paper didn't make the rules, but unlike the current presidential administration we respect our treaty obligations to the government of Australia by honoring the decree that established this particular accolade, signed on the eve of the Sydney Olympics at an Outback Steakhouse in Newark, Delaware by representatives of the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and an Australian delegation that included "Kangaroo Jack," Keith Urban, Kylie Minogue, all of the Men at Work, and the stingray that killed Steve Irwin. We salute Ben Mendelsohn as a credit to his nation. (AH)
Best Cinematography: James Laxton, "Moonlight"
From the sea to the interior scenes, blue is pondered in ways that will make you understand why Beyoncé named her firstborn after the color. In the past decade we've seen more cinematographers learn how to light black skin, and the big secret is the use of the color blue. (NH)
Best Princess: Carrie Fisher
Royalty in America goes something like this: Michael was the King, Beyoncé is the Queen, Prince was the Prince, and the Princess was Leia. Carrie Fisher's death at the end of December caught a lot of us somewhere deep, as unbelievable and unacceptable as news that Cinderella or Snow White had died. But Carrie Fisher was one of the realest people in Hollywood. She spoke about her history of drug abuse and mental illness with wicked humor and zero self-pity, not that we were ever in a position to judge. Without her, the galaxy is one bright star dimmer—and doesn't it feel like the Empire is winning? (AH)
Best Vocal Performance by Christopher Walken: "The Jungle Book"
The musical part of Jon Favreau's interpretation of "The Jungle Book" felt very out of place with the rather dark tone of the rest of the movie, but at least it arrived in the form of a creepy, hyperrealistic CGI orangutan with the voice of Christopher Walken singing a song. (Garrett Stralnic)
Best Pratfall: Ryan Gosling, "The Nice Guys"
The actual Oscars blew it when they nominated Gosling for "La La Land" instead of "The Nice Guys," wherein the baby goose puts on a physical comedy master class for two hours. Consider the scene where Gosling's Holland March back flips off a balcony, tumbles all the way down a big hill and loses his gun. It's the "Dark Knight" truck flip of guys falling on their ass and beefing it. (Max Robinson)
Best Actor Forced to Do Crap in a Hollywood Movie: Manuel Garcia-Rulfo, "The Magnificent Seven"
Director Antoine Fuqua's rip-roaring update of the 1960 original, itself a "Seven Samurai" riff, refreshingly doesn't kill off its Native American, African-American, and Mexican anti-heroes. But it doesn't go the full revisionist Western, due in part to the lazy caricature Garcia-Rulfo is saddled with. This Mexican actor speaks English with a subtle, sophisticated accent in interviews, but to play Vasquez it looks and sounds like he was asked to study "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre" for stereotypical Hollywood Mexican mannerisms and accent. (BM)
Best Couple: Baze Malbus and Chirrut Imwe, "Star Wars: Rogue One"
Even with admirable strides in representation and diversity over the last few years, the corporate pop culture mega-monolith that is Disney is notably reluctant to show LGBTQ characters on screen in their big blockbusters. But you don't have to be Force-sensitive to see that "Rogue One's" inseparable warrior monk/big-gun-haver duo—who bicker like they've been married for decades and who would rather die than live in a world without each other—are probably intended to be more than Just Good Pals. Not ideal representation, perhaps, but certainly a welcome wrinkle to homogenous heterosexuality in the Star Wars universe. (MR)
Best Rs Dropped: "Manchester By the Sea"
New England is where cinematic representations of working class white people have gone to die. If you want to make a movie about some folks who are going through some hard times and need to make some decisions they maybe don't want to make, book a flight to Logan and drop some Rs out of your screenplay. The twist of "Manchester By the Sea" is that, faced with the prospect of having to provide for his orphaned nephew, Casey Affleck never parks outside a Dunkin Donuts, crosses himself, and then pulls a balaclava down over his face while muttering, "Fehgive me fawtha fer I have sinned." (AH)
Best Representation of Thanksgiving With Family: "Krisha"
"Krisha" is a psycho drama that illustrates how disastrous your family Thanksgiving holiday could end if you are someone who has lost any kind of connection with your son because you are a recovering alcoholic and your mother who is suffering from Alzheimer's recognizes everyone but you and thinks you are ugly. Maybe this isn't the best Thanksgiving film for the whole family to watch together, or maybe it will make you feel better about your family get-togethers? Or maybe it will hit too close to home. (GS)
Best Jar of Piss: "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice"
Love it or loathe it, Zack Snyder's AXE body-spray scented Greek epic "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" was certainly not your usual superhero movie fare. Case in point: A crucial mid-movie plot reveal heralded by the appearance of a literal mason jar full of Lex Luthor's urine. In that brief, shining moment of pure wondrous insanity we were all Holly Hunter's doomed senator staring helplessly at a jar of "GRANNY'S PEACH TEA" while the cinematic machinations of a madman played out. (MR)
Best Dysfunctional Government Bureaucracy: "Shin Godzilla"
While some purists may have scoffed at a kaiju movie where the incompetence of state officials posed nearly as big a threat to humanity as a 118 meter tall lizard monster, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi's vision of monster movie catastrophe abetted by mundane human stupidity and indecision feels especially prescient with the faltering Trump administration's parade of incoming unqualified cabinet members and outgoing disgraced advisors. Is it too much to hope Godzilla marches on Washington? (MR)
Best GTFO: "The Accountant"
Just another one of your garden variety high-functioning-autistic-CPA-is-actually-a-deadly-assassin-and-criminal-mastermind-thanks-to-his-abusive-childhood flicks. I can't tell if this is an anti-vaxer nightmare or wet dream. (BM)
Best Please Don't Make This a Thing: "La La Land"
Look, we get it: Hollywood and critics loves them some movies about beautiful white people bittersweetly recounting the trials and tribulations of being beautiful white people trying to break into Los Angeles' entertainment industry. Always have, always will. But can we stop those movies being passed off as ostensible musicals that feature listless music and even worse dancing? I'll take another installment of the "Step-Up" franchise before another one of these every day of the week. (BM)
Best Use of Miami: "Moonlight"
From the neon nausea of "Miami Vice" to the anime wonderland of "2 Fast 2 Furious," the dubious escapism offered by the city has always been rendered through outsized distortions of its garish hotspots. "Moonlight" instead echoes its protagonist's fortified interiority by avoiding nods to prominent landmarks in favor of indistinct Florida backdrops in locations forgotten by the tourist industry. (Adam Katzman)
Best Glorified Clip Show: "Thoughts That Once We Had"
Taking a 180 from the incisive video-essay "Los Angeles Plays Itself" (cutting the running time in half, removing narration entirely), Thom Andersen tackles the knotty subject of Deleuze on Cinema by setting up a rhizomatic set of free-associative clips, with fragments of Deleuze quotes appearing intermittently, asking us to make the connections ourselves. (AK)
Best La La Land: "Nice Guys"
There was only one well-choreographed movie about an insufferable idiot trying to stop corruption in LA, and it wasn't the Target-clearance-aisle version of Jacques Demy where Ryan Gosling tries to save jazz from black people. (AK)
Best Authoritarian Dreamstate: "Cemetery Of Splendour"
Ancient kings fuel centuries-old territorial conflicts from beyond the grave using the spirits of comatose soldiers while Thailand's military junta runs roughshod over the countryside for resources. By communicating a fantastically grave scenario entirely through dialogue, Apichatpong Weerasethakul arms audiences with a critical lens for national discourse while at the risk of being silenced by the government himself. (AK)
Best Score Nominated for a Real Oscar That Won't Win: Mica Levi, "Jackie"
Mica Levi's score is an essential part of "Jackie." It pulls the audience forward through a biography that isn't anchored by a sensationalized recreation of one of America's darkest moments. It serves as a guide carrying us along with a sense of dread in the background of Jackie's performative creation of a legend through discussions with media and a man of the cloak. In great moments, the score swells to highlight Jackie's ghostly encounters with grief. Alas, Mica Levi's score is just too wonderfully strange to win an Oscar. (GS)
Best "Fuck Yeah" Moment: The Beastie Boys' 'Sabotage' showing up in "Star Trek Beyond"
Remember happiness? Remember joy? Remember when Captain Kirk blasted a Beastie Boys song into THE VAST EMPTINESS OF SPACE and a thousand bad guy drone ships straight up exploded in a moment embodying the purest spirit of YOLO? Justin Lin is a genius and "Star Trek Beyond" was way better than it had any right to be. (MR)
Best Worst Soundtrack: "Suicide Squad"
Yeah, this movie has more needle drops than Anthony Fantano's gym playlist, and most of them are comically overt selections that push from the territory of lazy curation to ironic obviousness. But it's mostly perfect? This film may have given us Jared Leto as The Joker, but it also gave us a Grammy-nominated song by Rick Ross and Skrillex. Rick. Ross. And. Skrillex. (DG)
Worst Best Soundtrack: "La La Land"
A much ballyhooed musical getting rained on with prestige award bukkake, but let's be frank: None of these songs are that great. Yes, the entire point of the casual mediocrity is so it feels like regular ass people are singing these tunes, but do you ever catch yourself humming any of them on the train? Not the case with Rick Ross and Skrillex. (DG)
The Black Francis LOUDquietLOUD Sound Editing Award: "Midnight Special"
This sleepy, semi-fascinating dual tribute to John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg gets a special shoutout for having whole swaths of screen time utterly devoid of any kind of noise, punctuated by aggressive stabs of shrill sound. Perfect for keeping you awake well past the moment you realize this flick isn't going to stick the landing. (DG)
Best Surprising Use of J-pop Songs in a Children's Animated Film that I Will Probably Never Watch: "Sing"
American movie "Sing" features three songs by the super kawaii J-pop star Kyary Pamyu Pamyu: 'Kira Kira Killer,' 'Koi Koi Koi' and 'Ninjari Ban Ban.' Her songs are performed in the movie by cute red pandas, of course. Kyary has gotten a lot of national attention for her pop music and for popularizing a colorful Harajuku fashion style, but her songs in an animated American blockbuster film is a welcome surprise. (GS)
Most Transcendent Dance Sequence: "The Fits"
In the final sequence of Anna Rose Holmer's brooding and rhythmic movie, the young protagonist Toni answers the lyrics of Kiah Victoria's beautiful 'Aurora' ("Must we choose to be slaves to gravity?"). Toni dances along with her class in a strained and organized pageant in an empty pool. The pain is clear in Toni's exaggerated smiling face and the heavy breathing of her classmates and we see Toni dancing jerkily in a way that disgusts or perhaps worries her captivated classmates. These two performances show the danger and freedom in being honest and expressive. (GS)
Best Acknowledgement of Global Blackness: Juan in "Moonlight"
"There are black people everywhere. No place you can go in the world that ain't got no black people, we was the first on this planet," says Juan, the drug-dealing father figure to our Chiron. He also tells Little that he's from Cuba. He then teaches him how to swim. In one short scene Juan exhibits the oft-ignored black Latino and then he destroys the myth that black people don't swim. (NH)
Best Brother-Against-Brother Rift Over Trump: Stephen Baldwin vs. Alec Baldwin
Years from now, after the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature has gone to Ken Burns' "Civil War 2," we'll watch on PBS as the camera pans over sepia-toned portraits of Stephen and Alec Baldwin and the voice of Garrison Keillor explains how the election of Donald Trump so divided the nation that it pit even brother against brother within the same, all but talentless family. The best we can hope for today is that Alec Baldwin's impersonation of Trump on "Saturday Night Live" will do to Trump's ego what John Wilkes Booth did to the back of Abraham Lincoln's head, leaving Stephen Baldwin to take his place along with Edwin Booth as one of the great irrelevant siblings of American history. But isn't that better than being remembered for the second (and lesser) live-action Flintstones movie? (AH)
Best "Really, Both Of These In One Year?": Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg for "Deep Water Horizon" and "Patriots Day"
Two faux inspirational True Story flicks from a dude tired of pretending to be Michael Bay and a guy who still works with Michael Bay? How many more American Disasters can these two aggressively white males transform into middling but intermittently entertaining pieces of serviceable cinema? Are they gonna keep doing two a year? Is this going to be a Mr. Glass scenario where they start physically causing terrible new tragedies just to adapt them to the screen? When will this carnage end? (DG)
Best Panopticon: "Prison in Twelve Landscapes"
Hopscotching from a former coal town dependent on prison labor for jobs to a Ferguson woman imprisoned for not paying a bogus fine on her trash can, to a small Bronx outlet specializing in prison care packages, among others, Brett Story uses quilted abstractions to illuminate the myriad ways in which every corner of the country lives in the shadow of the prison-industrial complex. (AK)
Best ACAB: "Do Not Resist"
Operating on the give 'em enough rope principle, Craig Atkinson lets SWAT teams, training seminars, budget hearings, and command centers incriminate themselves (at least theoretically, as they've been beyond accountability so far). In doing so, he unmasks the heavily militarized police state that was already operating as an occupying army in low-income black neighborhoods far before the election made milquetoast liberals experience wake up calls for a #resistance™. (AK)
Best Nonverbal Gesture of Sisterhood: Rebecca Ferguson turns a corkscrew into her husband's neck after Emily Blunt stabs him with it in "The Girl on the Train"
Ferguson's Anna Boyd steals the husband of Blunt's Rachel Watson, who descends into alcoholic stupor. Said husband slowly revealed to be habitual gaslighter, philanderer, and, when his good guy façade is threatened by his new mistress, murderer. Say it once, say it again, no excuse for violent men. (BM)
Most Woke Film Of The Year According To Your Talky Co-Worker Who Thinks Bernie Can Still Win: "Zootopia"
Full disclosure, this reviewer didn't see this film, but you really don't need to when every single fucking person you know feels the need to pull you aside and wax philosophic about how "Zootopia" is different than every other kids movie starring talking animals because these talking animals are a metaphor for systemic racial oppression. No offense, but I'd rather head to YouTube and watch 'The Bee Movie Only Every Time Someone Says Bee A Ball-Peen Hammer Smashes All The Fingers On My Dominant Hand.' (DG)
Best Poignant and Overdue Nod to Negro League Baseball: "Fences"
It's a true shame that with the exception of 1976's "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings" and 1996 made-for-TV movie "Soul of the Game," Negro League Baseball has gone basically unconsidered in American film. "Fences" is not a baseball movie, but the faded career of Troy Maxson (Denzel Washington) as a Negro League ballplayer carries profound meaning in August Wilson's story. Washington's interpretation suggests an entire world of excellence and dignity and thwarted talent, leaving us with some questions not often asked about what that world meant to the generations of African-American athletes who played in it and what they lost when it vanished with the breaking of the color line. (AH)
The "Mississippi Burning" Award for Finding a Safe Space for Heterosexual White Men in the Civil Rights Era: "Hidden Figures"
Hollywood's default settings routinely whitewash characters and turn to alternative facts when adapting history for the screen, but sometimes those efforts are so ham-fisted it's comically insulting. Case in point: Kevin Costner's Space Task Force director desegregating NASA's Langley Research Center's women's restrooms by taking an ax to the "colored" signage. Nevermind that the bathroom hike of Taraji P. Henson's Katherine Johnson in the movie was recounted by Mary Jackson in the book; the idea that a single solitary white dude desegregating anything in 1960s Virginia is as preposterous as white FBI agents fighting racism in 1960s Mississippi. (BM)
Best Wishful Thinking: "Sully"
Old white man who lectured an empty chair on live TV makes movie about an old white man who makes a crazy decision that saves lives, is asked to defend that decision, and is seen as hero. If only everybody could find a readymade story for coddling their egos. (BM)
Best Humanization of Drug Dealers: "Moonlight"
Juan is a drug dealer but he's also a good person. He's also an immigrant who took advantage of the job market, which in the '80s Miami happened to be drugs. He's a whole human being who cries when the young boy he loves as his own asks him about his profession. You can hear the shame in his muffled cries. He's still a good person. Chiron later grows up to become a drug dealer called Black, more out of confusion than lack of choice. But he's still a good person. I appreciate that in the case of Juan and Black, they are both good men who more so just happen to sell drugs as a profession. (NH)
Best Legally Sanctioned but Ethically Questionable and Perhaps Tasteless Resurrection of the Dead: CGI Peter Cushing, "Star Wars: Rogue One"
Is it so strange that Peter Cushing, famous beyond Star Wars for several Dracula movies, should come back from the dead to appear in "Star Wars: Rogue One" as Grand Moff Tarkin at the helm of the Death Star? Those critics who have called the film's Frankenstein trick "morbid" and a "digital indignity" would do well not to look a gift horse in the mouth when it comes to this particular franchise: One digital indignity I can think of, named Jar Jar Binks, makes CGI Peter Cushing look like the Frederick Douglass statue at College Park.(AH)
Best One-on-One Fight: Troy Maxson versus Death in "Fences"
Whenever someone in a movie starts telling a story, the audience is in special danger of being taken advantage of by the screenwriter (Quentin Tarantino, for example, is a serial monologue masturbator). In "Fences," we're safe with the words of August Wilson and the delivery of Denzel Washington, who could read your eviction notice and remain the most magnetic actor in the business today. Troy Maxson's account of his physical confrontation with the Grim Reaper (in a "white robe with a hood on it") is a key to his character and like all good stories told in real life, we hear it just the way funny stories are actually heard. (AH)
*A previous version of this story mislabeled "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk" as "Billy Flynn's Long Halftime Walk." City Paper regrets the error.